What is the law of citizenship in the United States?
Article I, section 8, clause 4 of the United States Constitution expressly gives the United States Congress the power to establish a uniform rule of naturalization. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 sets forth the legal requirements for the acquisition of, and divestiture from, citizenship of the United States. The requirements have become more explicit since the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, with the most recent changes to statutory law having been made by the United States Congress in 2001.
Rights of citizens
Adult citizens of the United States who are residents of one of the 50 states and the District of Columbia (Washington D.C) have the right to participate in the political system of the United States, as well as their state and local governments (with most states having restrictions on voting by persons convicted of felonies, and a federal constitutional prohibition on naturalized persons running for President and Vice President of the United States), to be represented and protected abroad by the United States (through U.S. embassies and consulates), and to live in the United States and certain territories without any immigration requirements.
Responsibilities of citizens
Some U.S. citizens have the obligation to serve in a jury, if selected and legally qualified. Citizens are also required (under the provisions of the Internal Revenue Code) to pay taxes on their total income from all sources worldwide, including income earned abroad while living abroad. Under certain circumstances, however, U.S. citizens living and working abroad may be able to reduce or eliminate their U.S. federal income tax via the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion and/or the Foreign Tax Credit. U.S. taxes payable may be alternatively reduced by credits for foreign income taxes regardless of the length of stay abroad. The United States Government also insists that U.S. citizens travel into and out of the United States on a U.S. passport, regardless of any other nationality they may possess.
Male U.S. citizens (including those living permanently abroad and/or with dual U.S./other citizenship) from 18-25 years of age are required to register with the Selective Service System at age 18 for possible conscription into the armed forces. Although no one has been drafted in the U.S. since 1973, draft registration continues for possible reinstatement on some future date.
In the Oath of Citizenship, immigrants becoming naturalized U.S. citizens swear that when required by law they will bear arms on behalf of the United States, will perform noncombatant service in the U.S. Armed Forces, and will perform work of national importance under civilian direction. In some cases, the USCIS allows the oath to be taken without the clauses regarding the first two of these three sworn commitments.
Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”
Birth abroad to two United States citizens
A child is automatically granted citizenship if:
Both parents were U.S. citizens at the time of the child’s birth;
The parents are married; and
At least one parent lived in the United States prior to the child’s birth. INA 301(c) and INA 301(a)(3) state, “and one of whom has had a residence.”
The FAM (Foreign Affairs Manual) states “no amount of time specified.”
A person’s record of birth abroad, if registered with a U.S. consulate or embassy, is proof of citizenship. They may also apply for a passport or a Certificate of Citizenship to have their citizenship recognized.
The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 (CCA), which went into effect on February 27, 2001, amends the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to provide U.S. citizenship to certain foreign-born children—including adopted children—of U.S. citizens.
Eligibility for naturalization
To become a naturalized United States citizen, one must be at least eighteen years of age at the time of filing, a legal permanent resident of the United States, and have had a status of a legal permanent resident in the United States for five years before they apply (this requirement is reduced to three years if they (a) acquired legal permanent resident status, (b) have been married to and living with a citizen for the past three years and (c) the spouse has been a U.S. citizen for at least three years prior to the applicant applying for naturalization.) They must have been physically present for at least 30 months of 60 months prior to the date of filing their application. Also during those 60 months if the legal permanent resident was outside of the U.S. for a continuous period of 6 months or more they are disqualified from naturalizing (certain exceptions apply for those continuous periods of six months to 1 year). They must be a “person of good moral character”, and must pass a test on United States history and government. Most applicants must also have a working knowledge of the English language. There are exceptions, introduced in 1990, for long-resident older applicants and those with mental or physical disabilities.
Applicants for citizenship are asked ten questions, and must answer at least six with the expected answers. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has published a list of 100 sample questions (with the answers that should be given when taking the test), from which the questions asked are always drawn. The full list of questions is in the “A Guide to Naturalization,” available for free from the USCIS.